Live Like a Nomad: Cozy Up in a Yurt this Winter

Photography courtesy of Dave Kenyon

Looking for a unique winter adventure or a way to get away from it all? Consider something new: winter camping in a yurt.

Tucked away in the woods, often in remote and serene settings, Michigan’s state park yurts immerse nature and snow lovers in the thick of winter’s wonders. There may not be Wi-Fi or cellphone service, or much in the way of modern amenities, but yurts provide plenty of coziness and seclusion.

A cross between a tent and a cabin, the circular-shaped structures allow family and friends to bunk together and enjoy a rustic night’s sleep out in the snowy woods. Heated by a wood stove, they also get toasty. They provide a cozy respite after a day spent skiing or snowshoeing, a place to bask in the tranquility of winter and sip hot cocoa around a campfire.

“I think more than anything, (what makes them special is) they’re not every place,” said Greg Sherburn, Muskegon State Park supervisor. “It’s kind of a really cool experience that you can’t always get. It’s very, very popular.”

Traditional yurts date back 3,000 years, the dwellings of ancient nomads. They still are used for shelter by Central Asian nomadic cultures, particularly in Mongolia. The round-shaped tents are covered with skins or felt, and the interiors are decorated with symbolic, geometric and pattern-based designs, thought to bring strength, happiness and offer protection.

“They bring a sled and have a backpack. A lot of people like the fact it’s a serene setting in the middle of nowhere. You just get away from it all there.”
— Melanie Brand

In Michigan, a handful of state parks offer a more modern version, typically sleeping four to eight people. The weatherproof structures have insulated canvas exteriors and wood latticework interiors, and can be rented year-round. And while they offer minimal furnishings, such as sofas, armoires, tables and chairs, and bunk beds, they don’t have water, electricity or bathrooms. They also involve some work to get there.

At Craig Lake State Park in Champion, one of the most remote state parks in Michigan, adventurous guests at the two yurts there must carry all of their gear and supplies. Despite the 3-to-4-mile trek, they stay rented on weekends in the winter and are popular among snow sports enthusiasts.

“They bring a sled and have a backpack,” said Melanie Brand, the park’s accounting assistant. “A lot of people like the fact it’s a serene setting in the middle of nowhere. You just get away from it all there.”

Muskegon State Park’s yurt is just a short walk from the parking area but offers the feeling of being out in the woods and away from it all, Sherburn said. It fills up in the winter due to its proximity to the Winter Sports Complex in the park and the cross-country trail network, along with sledding, ice skating and luge activities.

Other state parks or recreation areas with yurts include Pinckney Recreation Area, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and Waterloo Recreation Area. Porcupine’s backcountry yurts are near the cross-country ski trails, and snowmobiles are allowed on designated trails. Pinckney’s yurt offers access to the ungroomed Potawatomi Trail, and Waterloo’s is accessible by car.

For reservations, visit or call (800) 447-2757.

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